"He is unmarried. His younger brother is a station master in the west of England. His chair is worth seven hundred a year. And he owns a Greuze."
This observation of Holmes, referring to the infamous Professor Moriarty (who at this point in the Sherlock Holmes canon has not been publicly recognized as a master criminal) is an insight into the knowledge Holmes has of the professor’s criminal endeavors.
"Dear me, Watson, is it possible that you have not penetrated the fact that the case hangs upon the missing dumb-bell?"
This classic quote, similar to many others in the canon, is a classic “Holmes conundrum.” As Watson and the police force, as well as the reader, draw misleading conclusions from “obvious” clues (footprints, fingerprints, etc.), Holmes fixates on a single detail that seems to have no bearing on the case whatsoever: in this case, a missing dumb-bell.
"Are we never to get out of the Valley of Fear?"
This question, which Mrs. Douglas asks her husband, informs the reader of the cloud under which Douglas lives, and also refers to a literal valley in which the man once infiltrated the infamous Scowrers. The simple query indicates how much of a toll this situation takes on both Mr.Douglas and his wife; it also indicates how powerful the Scowrers are.
"I asked him when he recovered who Bodymaster McGinty was, and whose body he was master of. 'Never of mine, thank God!' he answered with a laugh, and that was all I could get from him."
This important quote indirectly introduces the character of Boss McGinty, one of the major villains in the story, and the terror associated with him. Because readers don't even meet him for many more pages, his fearsomeness becomes even more prominent.
"Yes," McMurdo answered slowly. "Birdy Edwards is here. I am Birdy Edwards!"
This quote, arguably the most poignant of the entire story, reveals that McMurdo, a character believed for the entirety of the novel to be a criminal, is really a Pinkerton detective. It is a somewhat rare "plot twist" in the Sherlock Holmes canon, as the canon does not often contain sudden reversals of character. By this simple revelation, previous events suddenly come into a new and sharper focus.
"Dear me, Mr. Holmes. Dear me!"
This line, which is in fact a note sent from Professor Moriarty to Sherlock Holmes, is an example of Doyle's brilliant writing. This simple statement informs Sherlock Holmes that Douglas has been murdered, and that Moriarty has once again triumphed over Holmes. It is somehow made all the more odious by its simplicity and its facelessness, adding to the loathing the reader feels towards Holmes' nemesis.
The temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data is the bane of our profession.
With this one succinct phrase, Holmes sums up what makes him so useful and so valuable. He does not get bogged down in his own theories: he remains clear-headed and uses his powers of observation. He abandons theories that do not work even if he once believed them to be true. He does not force the evidence to fit a preconceived narrative. He does not take it personally if he is wrong. All of these characteristics are crucial to law enforcement and people involved in the judicial system, but, lamentably, not everyone is as thoughtful and perspicacious as the fictional Sherlock Holmes.
The mist had lifted for a moment, and there was the abyss before him.
No doubt every reader comes to the realization of McMurdo's true identity at different points in the novel, but this short sentence after Morris reveals to him that there is a detective on their trail is one of the first clues that McMurdo is not who he seems to be. Yes, the fact that a detective is after the Scowrers is disconcerting enough, but that is also a situation that has happened numerous times before. McMurdo feeling as if there is an "abyss" in front of him is a strong sentiment. It suggests a deeper fear, a sense that things are spiraling out of control and are perhaps already too far gone. Doyle does not dwell here, though, and continues on with his story and makes McMurdo seem as if he is still a loyal member of the E.O.F.
Darkly the shadow lay upon the Valley of Fear. The spring had come with running brooks and blossoming trees. There was hope for all Nature bound so long in an iron grip; but nowhere was there any hope for the men and women who lived under the yoke of the terror. Never had the cloud above them been so dark and hopeless as in the early summer of the year 1875.
Doyle uses the metaphor of nature to describe the feeling the townspeople have about the Scowrers' rule over them. They live in a "Valley of Fear" full of shadows. They have a dark cloud above them, closing them in and taking away their will and ability to survive. Within this quote is another interesting dynamic, for Doyle also contrasts how nature can throw off the yoke of cruel winter but the people can never throw off the rule of the Scowrers. Both the metaphor and the comparison create a bleak picture of life in the Valley.
Strange indeed is human nature. Here were these men, to whom murder was familiar, who again and again had struck down the father of the family, some man against whom they had no personal feeling, without one thought of compunction or of compassion for his weeping wife or helpless children, and yet the tender or pathetic in music could move them to tears.
This is an excellent use of irony: this group of murderers, seemingly with no consciences or human sympathies, who rule with an iron fist, can be moved to tears by sweet music. They are, after all, only human, and can still experience love of the arts, God, and family. However, lest one become too inured to their behavior, Doyle moves away from scenes like this to those that detail their cruel deeds. A few tears and expressions of nationalist sentiment do little to mitigate the things they do to hold on to their power.
The Valley of Fear Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Valley of Fear is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Every great fictional hero has an equally great nemesis. Sherlock Holmes is no exception. One of the most infamous characters in literature, Moriarty ironically appears in only two Sherlock Holmes stories. Indeed, he does not ever actually appear...